Ben Masel, prominent marijuana activist and professional rabble rouser, died Saturday from complications due to lung cancer. He was 56....Meade and I had coffee with Ben less than a month ago. He looked and sounded like someone who was going to beat the terrible odds. It was possible to survive. You have to get into the "long tail." He was vibrant and completely engaged in the recent political events of Madison and took great pleasure in telling us about the many free speech battles he'd fought over the years. He talked about moving to another apartment and wanted to find a place that would accommodate his tall bookcases and all his books. With death staring him in the face, he was fully alive.
Masel was born in the Bronx and grew up in New Jersey. He moved to Madison in 1971 and quickly became a fixture of the counter-culture, known specifically for acts of civil disobedience in the cause of legalizing pot...
"He wasn't just some pothead," said Sal Serio, a longtime friend. "He respected the constitution. He respected the system. And he fought to make sure others did too."
In fact, Masel made his living fighting those who tried to limit personal freedoms and rights. He was, for lack of a better term, a professional activist....
Jeff Scott Olson, Masel's attorney for the past 20 years, said his client focused mainly on challenging limitations to free speech and right to assemble. Whenever police departments or cities tried to stop him from collecting signatures or protesting, he would sue. And according to Olson, he almost always won.And better than a lot of law professors! He was quite a brilliant guy.
Said Amy Gros-Louis, a friend of 25 years, "Ben knew the laws better than the police did."
Here's video Meade shot on March 24 at the Wisconsin Capitol, with Ben reading the free speech guarantees in the Wisconsin Constitution:
ADDED: Here's Ben's Facebook page for the event he called "Take back Wisconsin Constitution."
Yesterday the police issued the first citations for holding signs on the first floor ring of the Capitol building, in contravention of the court order which directed the department of Administration to return speech options to January. individuals have been free to hold political signs in this area for at least 25 years.
It's particularly ironic thatbthe Departmet of Adminisration's sign announcing the ban on protest ias immediately adjacent to an originalcopy of our State's Constitution, open to the very section which guarantees our right to protest there.